Stats help tell story of UVA's 2-0 start

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- This story begins with a disclaimer: The college football season is only two weeks old, so the sample size is small.

But through two games, the Virginia football team ranks in the top 20 in the country in more than a dozen team statistics. The Wahoos lead the ACC in more than a half-dozen stats. And those statistics help explain why UVA is off to its first 2-0 start since 2012, ranked No. 25 in the country in the latest Associated Press national poll and favored by a touchdown on Saturday night against Florida State.

According to UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall, that early-season success is a product of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both his team and the Cavaliers' opponents -- and being able to capitalize on the Wahoos' strengths, while exploiting those opponent weaknesses.

"So far we've been on point with our own assessment, and the assessment of our opponents. But a lot more work to do," Mendenhall said. "I think we're a more experienced, consistent, mature football team."

That experience and maturity can be illustrated with UVA's six penalties through two games, a total that ranks second in the ACC and 12th nationally. That consistency is demonstrated in the fact that the Wahoos rank 10th in the country in time of possession (35:28), and best in the ACC (and 16th nationally) in third down conversions (55.2 percent).

Powered by last Friday's 52-point performance against William and Mary, UVA's offense also leads the ACC in scoring at 41 points per game. Thanks to Joe Reed's 100-yard touchdown against the Tribe, the Cavaliers are averaging 33.17 yards per kick return, good for tops in the league and sixth in the country. The Wahoos are one of just 13 teams in the country with a blocked punt -- Noah Taylor's, in the first quarter of UVA's win at Pitt.

But statistically, the Cavaliers' strongest unit has been their defense. UVA's 11 sacks lead the ACC, and are tied for third nationally. The Wahoos are second in the conference and tied for eighth in the country with three interceptions. At 228.0 yards allowed per game, UVA ranks 14th in the country and second in the ACC in total defense; the rush defense ranks 15th nationally and second in the conference at 70.5 yards allowed per game.

Half of UVA's starters in their first two games were also regular starters on last year's eight-win team. They believe the discipline and football intelligence that come with that kind of experience has benefited the defense.

"I think every week we put a premium on our assignment and fundamentals," said senior defensive lineman Eli Hanback. "And I mean, if you're doing your job every play, that helps a lot. If you're not doing your job, there's gaps that open up, and that's how offense can score. So when you do your job, disciplined in your assignments, fundamentals, it makes it very tough on the offense."

"The chemistry definitely helps a lot," said junior defensive back Brenton Nelson. "There are things that one person may see, and make a communication call, but then somebody else may see something else. And then it's corrected, or things like that. We all just feed off each other."

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